Sexual Confusion

By David A. Liapis

The state university where I live publishes a magazine that gets distributed all over campus on a regular basis. One fairly recent copy had an article about sex. Now, I am certainly not interested in tips and advice for their version of a positive sexual experience, but I was curious if it would be as bad as I thought it would be. What I found was rather surprising … and not.

As you might expect in an article for the college-aged and presumably sexually active audience, the article started with a PSA for safe sex and offered various resources. There was also the expected, “Hey, it’s totally normal to hook up and experiment with a variety people and methods.” Not too much there I didn’t anticipate. However, there was also acknowledgement that pornography is a bad way to be educated about sex and, furthermore, is harmful to healthy sexual relationships (though there was no mention of the healthiest sexual relationships being monogamous and within the context of marriage). The source quoted in this section said that increased porn use resulted in less gratification in “actual” relationships. Not a bad assessment as far as that goes.

What really interested me though was one individual interviewed who showed up to the college and decided that if they felt like having sex, they would just go out and find anyone who wanted to as well. They talked about being with multiple partners at one time as one of their more unique experiences. After all, as they said, “sex is sex,” right?

This same person only a paragraph later made a statement I wish more people would read, and then be as confused and encouraged as I was. In recalling their unique exploit in particular, they said, “There was a big realization afterwards how little it meant. After I did that I was like, ‘That’s the coolest thing I’ve ever done’… The only way that I could beat that is actually having sex with someone I cared about. Like, actually having an emotional connection and having sex with the same person is the only thing I could actually do to beat that. And I recognized that immediately afterwards.” After this stunning acknowledgement by this person of their desire for, and the value of, monogamy, the article’s authors then go on to extoll the virtues of Bondage, Discipline, Sadism and Masochism. Yeah, I was scratching my head as well.

Absent the noted issues with the article, it was actually a very compelling argument against porn and polyamory (unintentionally though, it seems), yet it certainly fell short of stating married sex with a lifelong partner is the best, safest and most fulfilling sex – namely because that was how God designed it to be. The interviewee noted above tacitly admitted to their strong desire for exactly the kind of sexual relationship they were designed by their Creator to enjoy.

My hope and prayer is that at least some of the magazine’s readers noted the confusing message in this article, and, moreover, were left thinking there is actually a better way to view sex than as a recreational activity devoid of emotional and even spiritual connection. The way our culture (and pretty much every culture) predominantly views sex is clearly broken, and the consequences are many and often severe – abortion, depression, fatherlessness, disease and poverty, to name a few. I pray more and more people recognize God’s way is the best way in all things, and particularly with regard to sex. As cliché as that sounds, it’s the truth.

Why we pray

By David A. Liapis

Any Christian who’s really honest with themselves has asked, or is still asking, the question “why pray?” especially if He already knows our thoughts and His will is going to be done anyway. Here are four reasons why we should pray (beyond the fact the Bible tells us to and that Jesus and many others exemplified prayer as a practice for God’s people):

1. Prayer humbles us. Through prayer, we acknowledge our needy, helpless position before God (supplication), we acknowledge His greatness and our depravity (worship, adoration), and we serve others by spending our time and energy on them (intercession). Proud people don’t pray.

2. Prayer is a bending of the will. But, whose will is being bent? It often becomes our attempt to bend God’s will ours. We have so many things we want, and we think we know what’s best for us and for others. However, God uses prayer to bend our will to His. Psalm 37:4 says that when we delight ourselves in the Lord, He gives us the desires of our heart, meaning He will give me the desires He wants me to have. What I want will become what He wants when I delight in Him.

3. Prayer is both a means and an end. Prayer certainly can be a means that accomplishes an end in that we pray with an expectation God will hear and answer. But, when asking for things becomes the default all the time, we’re missing something. Sometimes we just need to be with God, to be open and honest with Him. Talk to Him like a child to a father. Don’t ask for anything. Don’t pray for anyone. Just share what’s on your heart and then listen. Be still and learn to hear the voice of God as you read His word. 

4. Prayer is what brings life to our relationship with the Lord. We can read books about George Washington just like we can read books about God. We can know all there is to know about our first President – what people said about him, what he did, to include things we can experience even today – but we will never truly know him as a person because, obviously, he’s dead. Likewise, if we only read the Bible and other books about God, go to church, listen to sermons, but never pray, we are not in a relationship. We can say God is real all we want, but if we don’t talk to Him as if he’s real, and not just real, but a personal God who wants us to know Him and enjoy Him more, we are acting as if He is not real, or, if He is, that we cannot know him any more than we can know George Washington. Prayer validates that we believe God is real and that He cares about us.

More in-depth discussion on the topic of prayer can be found here:

https://pensandpicks.com/2017/09/26/thoughts-on-prayer-part-1/

https://pensandpicks.com/2017/09/26/thoughts-on-prayer-part-2/

https://pensandpicks.com/2018/09/30/how-then-shall-we-pray-thoughts-on-matthew-65-13/

The Religion of Vaccines

By David A. Liapis

Let me start by saying this is not an argument for or against a specific vaccine, or vaccines in general. As one who has always been “up to date” on all the usual shots over the years, and even some uncommon ones due to my military service, the cocktail I’ve received has either kept me alive and well, or will be the death of me someday, I think. Either way, what I am going to discuss relates more to religion than disease.

I got my decadal tetanus shot the other day … or so I think. As I was being jabbed for the thousandth time, it struck me: I have more faith in this man with the needle than I do in God. I have faith he grabbed the correct vial. I also have faith that vial was labeled properly. I have faith the pharmaceutical company put the right vaccine – or even a vaccine at all – in that vial.

What was really in that syringe? I have no way to verify if I was injected with sugar water or Tdap. I have placed implicit trust and faith in the entire vaccine process from development to production to packaging to distribution to storage to the moment the plunger is depressed and something foreign enters my body. It’s kind of disturbing when you really think about it, but I don’t and just go with it; and, I guess that’s what is expected of us.

We’ve been inoculated against inoculations since we were babies. Shots are just part of life. We can’t verify if everything we’re told is true, but we believe and conform to the liturgy of vaccinations every six months, then every three years and so on. Like what happens on Christmas and Easter, the doors of the clinic or drug store open with “Get your flu shot” banners and signs drawing us in for our yearly sacrament.

How is this any different than religion? Many are told from their childhood there is a deity, and that is just a fact of life. We are told to attend religious gatherings and embrace the liturgies and rituals. We are called to believe in some things we cannot see or verify empirically. We even endure pain sometimes, but we’re assured it is good and necessary and all part of the process.

This is not a call to reject vaccines or religion. Rather, it’s a call to Christians to consider how the faith we truly put in the God of the universe who created and loves us is often less than the faith we put in a flu shot. To people who don’t believe in the God of the Bible, it’s a challenge to acknowledge that we all have faith. Faith in vaccines. Faith in the evolutionary theory. Faith in political systems and leaders. The call for all of us is to redirect our faith on the only thing, rather, the only One, who is truly worthy of our implicit faith – Jesus Christ.

Am I unforgivable?

(Thoughts on Matthew 12:22-32)

Have you ever wondered if God can really forgive all, let alone any, of the sins you’ve committed? Have you worried you’ve committed the “unforgivable sin,” even if unknowingly?

Even John Bunyan, famous preacher and author of The Pilgrim’s Progress, in his autobiographical book Grace Abounding to the Chief of Sinners, relates how he spent years being tormented with the conviction he had committed the unpardonable sin. The fact that such a man struggled so much to understand what Jesus Christ meant in Matthew 12 and Mark 3 causes me to hesitate to even attempt to explain what I think it is. Additionally, there is still disagreement amongst pastors and theologians as to what, exactly, it means to “blaspheme against the Holy Spirit.” However, a simple reading of the texts in both Gospels provides what I think is sufficient clarity and encouragement.

There are really three main things happening in Matthew 12:22-32. The first is that a demon-oppressed man is miraculously freed by Jesus, but then he and his plight quickly become almost tangential to the rest of the story as the Pharisees come into the narrative and spar with Jesus (the second thing taking place). The religious elite were jealous of the crowds Jesus was attracting – crowds who in this passage openly started to question if Jesus was in fact the Messiah, “the Son of David.” The Pharisees jumped into action to counter this growing sentiment and stated that Jesus’ power to cast out demons was granted to him by Satan rather than the Holy Spirit of God.

The third main thing is Jesus’ response to the Pharisees that contains multiple analogies and some very significant, convicting and encouraging statements. He first points out the fact that even Satan is not so stupid as to fight against himself by stating that “Every kingdom divided against itself is laid waste.” He then compares Satan to a “strong man” protecting a house, but who is then bound so the house can be plundered (presumably by the Gospel of the Kingdom that Jesus was preaching). By these statements Jesus affirms the fact the Kingdom of God “has come upon you,” and that Satan has been defeated, not through an eventual self-destructive strategy as the Pharisees were implying was happening, but by the power of God.

Jesus then shifts to an agricultural analogy of sowing and gathering, stating that “whoever is not with me is against me.” This is important to understand. There is no neutral. You are either living for God – obeying him, loving him, loving your neighbor and sharing the Gospel – or you’re his enemy. However, there’s hope for God’s enemies because “God shows his love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us … For if while we were enemies we were reconciled to God by the death of His Son, much more, now that we are reconciled, shall we be saved by his life” (Romans 5:8, 10). Yet, the question still remains for some: Have I committed the unforgivable sin?

I believe what Jesus tells us is the unpardonable sin is to attribute the work of the Holy Spirit to the Devil. Mark’s Gospel clarifies this for us at the end of his relation of this narrative saying, “for [the Pharisees] were saying [Jesus] had an unclean spirit.” Thus, to attribute the work of the Holy Spirit to Satan is to blaspheme the Holy Spirit and to be “guilty of an eternal sin.”

This is what it comes down to. This is where we either receive the most encouraging or the most damning words from Jesus. If you’ve ever worried you’ve sinned yourself out of being saved, Jesus also says in this passage that “every sin and blasphemy will be forgiven people…” Therefore, you have every hope that God will forgive any sin you have committed, or will commit. Take refuge in that when Satan tries to convince you you’re too far gone to be saved. “But, what about the unpardonable sin?” you might ask. Yes, Jesus said that one sin is “eternal,” but, as John Bunyan finally came to understand, anyone who truly seeks to be reconciled to God through Jesus Christ cannot have committed the unpardonable sin because no one who truly seeks God will be cast away.

“All that the Father gives me will come to me, and whoever comes to me I will never cast out … For this is the will of my Father, that everyone who looks on the Son and believes in him should have eternal life, and I will raise him up on the last day.” – Jesus Christ (John 6:37, 40)

How to be a snakedove

By David A. Liapis

In the sixteenth chapter of the book The Acts of the Apostles, we read about Paul and Silas, his helper in their missionary ministry, walking the streets of the Macedonian city of Philippi and being followed by a demon-possessed girl who, the text says, cried out for many days, “These men are servants of the Most High God, who proclaim to you the way of salvation.” It seems odd that a girl in bondage to Satan would repeatedly state such things – truthful things; but, in true Satanic fashion, the truth was being proclaimed in such a way that it became an annoyance. Rather than being able to hear the message of Gospel preached by Paul and Silas, they were distracted by this girl shouting over and over again that they had a message to share from God. So Paul, “having become greatly annoyed,” cast the demon out of the girl.

Needless to say, her “owners” were not happy she was nothing more than an ordinary girl once again, and so they took Paul and Silas before the local authorities and accused them of stirring up trouble. The officials proceeded to beat the missionaries and imprison them without a trial. Later that night they were singing hymns and praying when all of a sudden there was an earthquake that caused all the prison doors to open. Long story short, the jailer was saved from harming himself (thinking the prisoners had escaped) and then saved from his sins after Paul and Silas preached the Gospel to him.

The next day, the magistrates sent to have the men released and leave the city “in peace.” At first, Paul was going to have none of it. He said, “They have beaten us publicly, uncondemned, men who are Roman citizens, and have thrown us in prison; and do they now throw us out secretly? No! Let them come themselves and take us out.” The magistrates, not wanting to get in trouble for their illegal actions, came and apologized and asked them again to leave quietly.

Paul originally wanted a public apology for a public offense. When the magistrates came in private and apologized, Paul could have easily demanded more. He and Silas had been physically assaulted, their reputations tarnished, and their rights violated. However, Paul contented himself with the private apology, left the prison quietly, encouraged some fellow Christians, and then left the city “in peace.”

Why didn’t Paul stand up for himself and fight for his rights to the fullest extent possible? I contend it was because he realized doing so would not enhance his ability to share the Gospel. Just because he could have, didn’t mean he should have. Think for a moment of all the implications and impacts such a forcing of the issue would have had in relation to his mission to share the love, forgiveness and grace of Jesus Christ.

In the same way, we as Christians have to wrestle with how to balance fighting to maintain our personal and civil rights with what Jesus said about turning the other cheek, not resisting an evil person and the example of Paul letting his rights get trampled for the sake of the Gospel. This is a tough topic, especially now in the U.S. I can think of cake bakers, wedding photographers, journalists and others who have been embroiled in fighting for their rights. Were they all wrong for doing so? Should they just have given up, let themselves be silenced, pushed around, and forced to violate their consciences?

I don’t claim to know the answers to all those questions, and I don’t think there’s a one-size-fits-all approach. In each of these circumstances, and any we might face in the future, we have to assess, as Paul did, if action or inaction will advance or hinder the Gospel both in the short and long term. We must, as Jesus said, be wise as serpents and gentle as doves. Paul was a bit if a “snakedove.” He got the local authorities to acknowledge their error and offer an apology, but was wise and gentle enough to graciously leave the city without publicly embarrassing them or putting his rights a Roman citizen above his calling to preach the Gospel.

If we are Christians, we must remember we are dual citizens of our Earthly nation as well as the Kingdom of Heaven. As such, we must give preference to the higher authority – the King of Kings and Lord of Lords – and seek to honor and obey Him in all things, even if it means giving up some “rights” granted to us by lesser authorities. God has given us all the charge to be salt and light in the world, and that can and should certainly include being good, engaged Earthly citizens who champion truth, justice and equality and who participate in electing God-fearing leaders. We should advocate, and, when appropriate, even fight for the rights we’re afforded by our governments; yet we have to always remember our ultimate calling is from Jesus – to make disciples, to love our neighbors (and our enemies), and, if necessary, to suffer and die for His sake and the sake of the Gospel.

“If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross and follow me. For whoever would save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for my sake will find it.” – Jesus of Nazareth

Angry in church

By David A. Liapis

Thoughts on Matthew 12:1-21

Have you ever been angry? How about while at church? Did you know Jesus got angry in a place of worship (besides the time he flipped the moneychanger’s tables in the Temple)?

Matthew chapter 12 (and the parallel passages in Mark 3 and Luke 6) started out peacefully enough. It was likely a sunny autumn Sabbath morning in Judea and Jesus and his disciples were taking a leisurely stroll through a wheat field, smelling the ripening grain and feeling it tickle their hands as they walked along. As they went they realized they had not yet had breakfast, so the disciples decided to snap off a few heads of wheat and began rolling them around in their hands to remove the chaff so they could then have a small snack. Then, they showed up.

The Pharisees seem to pop up out of nowhere, bent on harassing Jesus and his followers. They took it upon themselves to “inform” Jesus his law-breaking disciples were out of control, picking, rolling and eating grain on the Sabbath! They did this, of course, to test him. They wanted to know if he’d turn around and chastise his rebellious followers and put them in check. Rather, Jesus challenged the “religious police” by reminding them of “that one time” King David – the most revered king in Jewish history – broke the law of Moses when he and his men were on the verge of starvation. Not done, Jesus also reminded them of how the priests who served on the Sabbath got a pass on observing the Law so they could fulfill their duties. Still not done, Jesus basically made a mic-drop statement, saying he is “lord of the Sabbath.” This was an audacious claim since the Sabbath goes back past Moses and the Law all the way to the very creation of the world when God rested on the seventh day of the week and declared it holy. If Jesus is the “lord of the Sabbath,” then he was saying nothing short of, “I am the Creator God.”

Not to be deterred from attending synagogue that Sabbath, Jesus and his disciples resumed their journey to that end. Upon entering the place of worship, Jesus saw a man with a deformed hand. It’s not clear from the text, but it’s possible the Pharisees intentionally had this man there at that time to again test Jesus so they could find fault with him. Either way, Jesus didn’t pass up the opportunity to heal the man. However, Jesus wasn’t exactly overflowing with what we might consider expressions of love and compassion at that moment.

In the three parallel passages of the “Synoptic Gospels” (Matthew, Make and Luke), Jesus challenged the Pharisees again by asking a rhetorical question, “Is it lawful to do good on the Sabbath?” He even used the example of a sheep falling into a pit and asks, again rhetorically, if they would pull it out. Of course, the answer to both questions is “yes,” which put the Pharisees in an uncomfortable position. So they stood there silently, unwilling to concede.

Imagine the scene at that moment. There was the disabled man awkwardly standing in the middle of an expectant crowd, wondering what he should do and what was about to happen. There were people all around, including Jesus’ disciples, watching this tense standoff. There were the Pharisees who had just been bested by Jesus standing there in silent indignation. Then, there was Jesus – Jesus who is always full of compassion, love, mercy and wisdom … and he’s ticked.

The Bible says “And [Jesus] looked around at [the Pharisees] with anger…” Imagine Jesus turning slowly around making eye contact with each of the Pharisees with a look of fury on his face. Now, it was not out-of-control rage Jesus felt because his authority was being challenged. Mark’s account tells us Jesus’ anger was rooted in grief “at their hardness of heart.” Jesus was angry, but he was also simultaneously full of grief … for the people. He was angry “and yet without sin” because his motives were pure.

We’re told in Ephesians 4:26 to “Be angry and do not sin.” This could even mean being angry in church, like Jesus was. However, our anger must be correctly rooted in order to be “righteous anger.” Most often we are angry because someone has sinned against us. We have been wronged, offended, slighted, annoyed, inconvenienced, embarrassed. Our rights have been threatened or curtailed. Our comfort has been diminished. See the difference? Jesus’ anger was rooted in grief over sin and for the people, even his “enemies.” He was angry because a man who needed compassion and healing was being used as leverage by the very ones who should have been moved to help him. He was angry because the Pharisees were those who were slamming the door of the “Kingdom of Heaven in people’s faces” (Matthew 23:13), and that Sabbath day was no exception. Jesus’ anger was ultimately motivated his love for people. Our anger, by stark contrast, is far too often rooted in our love for ourselves.

Thus, anger is not inherently sinful. It cannot be, because Jesus felt and demonstrated it. Rather, it’s our motives and actions that are sinful. It’s absolutely righteous to be angry when we see the effects of sin causing pain, suffering and death on others (it gets a little precarious when we ourselves are feeling the effects since it’s easy to respond from a heart of selfishness). It’s right to be infuriated when we read the news of some wicked person doing unspeakable things to someone else. That makes us angry, and we want to believe God is angry, too. We want to believe in a God of justice who gets mad at evil, and he does! He is so angry at evil and sin that he has clearly stated in the Bible it will by no means go unpunished. This is where the Gospel comes in.

Either we will be punished justly for our sins, or the punishment that Jesus suffered on the cross will be for us. Isaiah 53:5 says, “But he was wounded for our transgressions; he was crushed for our iniquities; upon him was the chastisement that brought us peace, and with his stripes we are healed.” In a sense, anger motivates the Gospel. But, as in Matthew 12, God is not simply fuming that he has been personally offended (even though our sin is an offense against him). That anger is rooted in God’s love and compassion for his people.

In Matthew 12, there are two responses to Jesus’ anger. The Pharisees, the passage says, “…went out and conspired against him, how to destroy him.” Conversely, “…many people followed Jesus, and he healed them all…” In the same way, we can either reject Jesus and his offer of forgiveness to us, resulting in just and eternal punishment for our sin; or, we can embrace the love-founded anger that caused the Father to “crush” Jesus for us, follow him, and receive healing and everlasting life.

The Who of home

By David A. Liapis

Have you ever contemplated what heaven is like? Have you wondered if there really will be streets made of actual gold, or if we’ll be able to telepathically communicate? Do you envision being issued a harp and then allotted a cloud where you’ll spend eternity floating around strumming on the strings while a halo glows over your angelic head?

Unfortunately (but, maybe fortunately), the Bible devotes relatively few verses to the details of the “home” that Christians await. We do know there will be no tears, “and death shall be no more, neither shall there be mourning, nor crying, no pain anymore…” (Revelation 21:4); and there will be a river and tree of life (Rev 22:1-2), feasting (Rev 19:9), and the presence of those who have trusted in Jesus Christ as their Lord and Savior (1 Thessalonians 4:13-18). We know that there will be a “new heaven and new earth” (2 Peter 3:13) that God’s throne will be there in heaven (Daniel 7:9).

“That’s all great, but what will we do for all eternity? Play a harp? Sing in a massive choir?” I’ve heard those questions before. I’ve asked them myself. I’ve joined in conversations where we spoke longingly of all the wonders and blessings of a place without anything evil or hurtful and where we are safe from the fire of Hell. I’ve contributed to speculation on what we’ll get to do in heaven, which family members and friends (and pets) will be waiting there, and what hobbies we enjoy now we’ll still be able to do once we enter the pearly gates.

We’re now four paragraphs into a discussion of heaven. Is there anything you’ve noticed missing? We’ve considered the “where” and the “what” of heaven, yes, but what about the most neglected, yet undisputedly most important, aspect of heaven – the “Who”?

It’s not uncommon for people to focus so much on the “where,” “what” and “how” of heaven that the “Who” of heaven is barely given a thought. This is most tragic because the presence of the Who – the Triune God – is the only reason heaven is heaven! “I just can’t wait to be home!” is not at all a bad desire to express, but we need to finish the thought with why it is we want to be “home.”

Throughout more than 17 years in the military I have lived in no fewer than 14 “homes” in a dozen different states and countries. Yet, when I think of “home” I think not of any of the structures in which I have lived nor of the things that were in them – the where and the what. Nor do I consider where I grew up as “home” even though that “where” holds a special place in my memory and can be brought to the forefront of my mind with a sight, scent or sound that jars loose a pleasant recollection. Rather, when I think of “home,” I think of “who” – my wife and children. It’s always been the “who” that makes a home “home.” Likewise, heaven is not a place we’ve been where resurrected memories stir within us nostalgic longings, nor is it a place where we can truly envision with certainty what it will look like and what we’ll do as if there were a website or brochure to ground our imagination in reality.

Pastor John Piper asks in his book God Is the Gospel: Meditations on God’s Love as the Gift of Himself, “The critical question for our generation—and for every generation—is this: If you could have heaven, with no sickness, and with all the friends you ever had on earth, and all the food you ever liked, and all the leisure activities you ever enjoyed, and all the natural beauties you ever saw, all the physical pleasures you ever tasted, and no human conflict or any natural disasters, could you be satisfied with heaven, if Christ were not there?”

Anyone who answers the above question in the affirmative is probably not currently headed there since heaven is all about the “Who.” Interestingly enough, our lives here are also not about comfort, pleasure and living “our best life now.” Even this side of heaven everything we are and do is all about the “Who” of heaven. Paul the Apostle says in Romans 11:36, “For from him and through him and to him are all things. To him be glory forever.” Therefore, it’s not too early to “set our minds on things above,” as Paul says later in Colossians chapter three, and learn to know and love the “Who” of heaven now so that we long for our eternal home even more since there we know we will “always be with” the “Who” of our heavenly home.

The original terrorist

By David A. Liapis

The dictionary defines a terrorist as “a person who uses unlawful violence and intimidation, especially against civilians, in the pursuit of political aims.” Therefore, Satan – the Devil, the Adversary, Lucifer – is the original terrorist, and Adam and Eve were the first victims of terrorism. Using the dictionary definition, let’s break this down.

“A person…” Satan is real. He is a person. Not a human being, but a person in the most basic sense that he exists as a being with all the necessary characteristics to qualify him as a person. He is not a myth, a legend or a man in a red suit with a pitchfork and pointy tail. He was a beautiful creature made by God to lead angelic beings in praise and worship of God. Then he fell. Now he is a master deceiver, a terrible foe and the father of terrorism.

“…who uses unlawful violence…” This might be a bit of a stretch for some, but Satan committed the most violent act imaginable in the history of the world when he assaulted Adam and Eve with words; but, not just any words. Words that were intended to kill the very spirit of humans that God had placed within them. When we think of 9/11 and how many thousands of lives were ended, and tens of thousands more directly impacted, we are astounded and angry – and rightfully so! But, when Satan attacked Adam and Eve in the Garden of Eden, the result was immediate spiritual death (as God had warned would happen) and a curse that brought death to every human who would ever live.

“…and intimidation…” Webster’s says intimidation means “to make timid or fearful: frighten; especially: to compel or deter by or as if by threats.” The Devil used subtle intimidation to gain his victory that day by causing Adam and Eve to fear that God was not good, that He was withholding something wonderful from them, and thus compelled them to eat of the forbidden fruit. 

“…especially against civilians…” Satan’s war was with God. Satan wanted to be God, so he (and a third of the angels who followed him) were cast out of heaven. Rather than foist a counter-attack where he knew he would be easily repelled, he chose to target the first civilians who were completely vulnerable in Eden. Just like the terrorists of today, Satan went for the soft target where the risk to him was low, and the attack sure to succeed.

“…in the pursuit of political aims.” As stated above, Satan’s ultimate goal was and is to overthrow the government of God and rule in His place. Since he cannot achieve that goal, he has resorted to terrorism to kill, maim and instill fear all with the aim of doing as much damage to God’s creation – especially mankind – as he can. He knows his destruction is sure, and he is doing all he can to take as many souls with him as possible.

But, we know how this all ends for the original terrorist: “…and the Devil who had deceived them was thrown into the lake of fire and sulfur where the beast and false prophet were, and they will be tormented day and night forever and ever … then Death and Hades were thrown into the lake of fire. This is the second death, the lake of fire. And if anyone’s name was not written in the book of life, he was thrown into the lake of fire.”

What do we do in the meantime? How do we live with hope in a world full of suffering and evil? And, most importantly, how do we have our name written in the book of life and so avoid same fate as Satan? The word of God in Romans 5:1-11 answer those questions most succinctly:

“Therefore, since we have been justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ. Through him we have also obtained access by faith into this grace in which we stand, and we rejoice in hope of the glory of God. Not only that, but we rejoice in our sufferings, knowing that suffering produces endurance, and endurance produces character, and character produces hope, and hope does not put us to shame, because God’s love has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit who has been given to us. For while we were still weak, at the right time Christ died for the ungodly. For one will scarcely die for a righteous person—though perhaps for a good person one would dare even to die— but God shows his love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us. Since, therefore, we have now been justified by his blood, much more shall we be saved by him from the wrath of God. For if while we were enemies we were reconciled to God by the death of his Son, much more, now that we are reconciled, shall we be saved by his life. More than that, we also rejoice in God through our Lord Jesus Christ, through whom we have now received reconciliation.”

The sin of the Bark Beetle

By David A. Liapis

In 2018 the Roosevelt fire ravaged nearly 62,000 acres of the Bridger-Teton National Forest, which is otherwise some of the most stunning mountain country in the U.S. If you drive along Wyoming Highway 189 near the tiny town of Bondurant, you’ll encounter the huge burn scar where the wildfire tore through the region. Yet, right in in the midst of all the devastation and the countless gray skeletons of trees there are, seemingly inexplicably, full-sized, flourishing evergreens that somehow escaped the flames like Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego escaped Nebuchadnezzar’s furnace. Sometimes it was one lone pine that stood full of solitary life, and in some cases is was a small stand of trees that survived the inferno. Regardless of how the trees managed to survive, one verse stood out to me as I drove through – Psalm 1:3 speaking of the righteous person: “They are like a tree planted by streams of water.”

I am by no means an expert in dendrology, but it seems a tree’s resistance to fire has something to do with where it’s located, such as in a ravine and/or near a water source. Obviously a well-watered tree has a better chance of surviving the flames; but, there’s more to being “planted by streams of water” than just that first-order effect.

All throughout the un-burned sections of the forest you can see the telltale signs of Bark Beetle activity – thousands upon thousands of dead trees that have succumb to beetle’s lethal infestation and are now prime fuel for future blazes. It was very clear the trees that remained after the fire were not numbered among these “beetle kill” trees, which means in order to survive the day of fire, they had to withstand months and years of beetle attacks.

The Bark Beetle is not an invasive species that has recently been introduced to our forests. Rather, it has always been a part of the forest ecosystem, helping to thin the forest by killing sick and unhealthy trees, making more room for good trees to grow. However, when drought occurs, such as it has in the Western U.S. for many years, thirsty, and therefore unhealthy trees are unable to kill the invading beetle the way it should – by encasing the larvae in sap and preventing not only its own demise, but also the spread of the beetle to other trees.

In this natural analogy, the Bark Beetle is sin. It’s an ever-present nuisance that must be fought off; and, just like the trees, we can only do so if we are adequately watered. If we are like the tree in Psalm 1 – drinking from the living water of Christ and His word – then we are prepared to ward off attacks; but, just like the drought-stricken trees, if we are not well-watered, then the “sin beetle” can make a home and begin its deadly assault. Like Paul the Apostle says, “For the wages of sin is death…” in Romans 6:23.

The scariest part of this analogy is actually not having the beetle come in and bring slow and almost certain death to the tree. The scariest part is the threat of fire coming and completely destroying what little remains of the tree. In the same way, literal fire of judgment is coming and only “trees” who are healthy from being soaked in the Living Water of Jesus Christ (John 4) will be able to endure it. The question then is whether you are truly like the tree in Psalm 1 that is planted by streams of Living Water and thus able to withstand the flames, or are you the dry, unhealthy tree being slowly killed by the “sin beetle” and thus unable to avoid destruction from the fire of judgment that is sure to come?

If you have either never trusted in Jesus Christ as your Savior, or if you’re a professing Christian who is not abiding in Christ and His Word, then cry out to Him today and ask Him to plant you by streams that do not run dry where your roots can dig down deep in the soil of the Gospel and His Word, the Bible. It’s only there you will find what’s needed to be like those sparse remnants of trees – alive and thriving in spite of the consuming fire that came that destroyed everything else around them.

“Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ! According to his great mercy, he has caused us to be born again to a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead, to an inheritance that is imperishable, undefiled, and unfading, kept in heaven for you, who by God’s power are being guarded through faith for a salvation ready to be revealed in the last time. In this you rejoice, though now for a little while, if necessary, you have been grieved by various trials, so that the tested genuineness of your faith—more precious than gold that perishes though it is tested by fire—may be found to result in praise and glory and honor at the revelation of Jesus Christ. Though you have not seen him, you love him. Though you do not now see him, you believe in him and rejoice with joy that is inexpressible and filled with glory, obtaining the outcome of your faith, the salvation of your souls.” – 1 Peter 1:3-9 (ESV)

Saddle up Jesus

By David A. Liapis

No, I did not forget punctuation in the headline. I’m not advising Jesus to put a saddle on a horse as if we’re in some Western movie about to head out to wrangle some cattle, like, “Saddle up, Jesus!” Nor did I use incorrect or insufficient words, as in “Sidle up next to Jesus.” No, I meant exactly what I wrote because I think many of us are guilty of wanting to do just that – throw a saddle on Jesus’ back. Allow me to explain.

In Matthew 11: 25-30, Jesus calls out to “all who labor and are heavy laden” to come to him, which is all of us. We are all bidden by the Lord of Creation to “come” to him and “find rest for [our] souls.” It’s really an amazing offer; but, there’s a caveat – that we must take Jesus’ yoke upon ourselves and learn from him. He does promise, “My yoke is easy, and my burden is light;” but, the implication seems to be that we shoulder some of the burden. It’s been said about this concept of the “easy” yoke that it means the yoke is fit to us to make wearing it as comfortable as it can be. The other element here is the yoke, which is intended to bring two animals together to help (or force) them to work together in unison. The good news for us is that when we submit to Jesus’ yoke, we are not just yoked by him, but we are yoked with him, and, as the strong one, he bears the majority of the burden. This is not to say we have to work in order to be saved, so please don’t misunderstand me. The burden(s) being borne here can be taken as life in general, and the work of the kingdom more specifically (which can mean missions, church planting, serving in church, God-centered parenting, etc.). Jesus certainly cares about both.

Here’s the part though where want to “saddle up Jesus.” Rather than submitting to His yoke, we’d rather throw a saddle on him and just sit back, relax, and “let go and let God.” Or, even more telling of our desire to be at ease and in control, we also want to put a bit in His mouth and turn him wherever we wish. If we’re really honest, we’d prefer to saddle Jesus than to be yoked with him. In our pride and desire for comfort, we’d prefer a method of getting through life where Jesus does all the burden-bearing while we get all the benefits of health, wealth and prosperity in this life, and eternal bliss in the next.

However, this contradicts not only this passage of Scripture, but also many others. For example, Ephesians 2:10 says, “For we are His workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them.” James 2:26 says, “For as the body apart from the spirit is dead, so also faith apart from works is dead.” 1 Corinthians 15:58 also says, “Therefore, my beloved brothers, be steadfast, immovable, always abounding in the work of the Lord, knowing that in the Lord your labor is not in vain.”

This is the great paradox Matthew 11: finding rest in labor. The key is to make sure we are truly learning from Jesus how to both work and rest His way. We can do many “Christian” things in our own strength … until our strength fails (which it will). We can do a lot of nothing and say we’re “resting in the Lord” and yet fail to what God intended for us to do. The tension between work and rest can only be resolved by knowing and resting in Jesus and working, yoked along side the one who is both stronger and wiser. The only way to know Jesus is to be with Him in prayer and reading the Bible (and not just what He wants from us – commands, rules, etc. – but knowing His character). In summary, we all need to read our Bibles more and look for not only the “what,” but the “who.” This is the only way we can rest and work simultaneously.

Photo by Los Muertos Crew from Pexels